Pictured: George Walker of Exmore, a participant in the Eastern Shore Regional Jail society re-entry program, talks as Sheriff David Doughty and program director the Rev. Kelvin Jones listen.
By Ted Shockley
George Walker of Exmore is serving a sentence in the Eastern Shore Regional Jail for malicious wounding. Maryland resident Nicole Koester is serving a sentence there for breaking and entering, and grand larceny.
“I have numerous opportunities that I blew,” said Walker.
“I deserve a better life,” said Koester. “I don’t know if I necessarily thought that before.”
They realize their mistakes and don’t plan on returning. That’s why they volunteered for a new society re-entry program at the regional jail geared to provide inmates counseling, education, real-life experiences and more.
Northampton County Sheriff David Doughty said the goal of the new program is to give participants “tools to be productive citizens when they’re released.”
Capt. Roger Kennedy, the jail’s superintendent, put it this way: “We have a choice to make as to who we want living beside us.”
Helping those felons who want a second chance makes for “better citizens” and “safer neighbors,” he said.
The re-entry program will graduate its first eight male participants in December. An eight-person class for women began three weeks ago.
The program’s director is the Rev. Kelvin Jones, the sheriff’s office chaplain. Jones formerly worked in the state’s re-entry program, which has become a national model of how to ensure those released from incarceration don’t find their way back.
He wanted to build a local program to mirror the state’s successes. Walker is glad he did.
“Just sitting around all day, nine times out of 10 you’re going to come back in here,” he said.
Instead, the re-entry program provides a six-month curriculum of classes including anger management, family reunification, high-school equivalency, thinking for change and more.
Participants will be released from jail ready to work with a certificate of completion, a federal bonding letter, and a state identification. Employers can receive a $2,400 tax credit by hiring a program participant.
A popular component of the re-entry program is a gardening class where participants grow food for the inmate population, learn self-sufficiency and teamwork, and even eat vegetables they’ve never tried.
“I’ve got guys eating turnips right out of the ground,” said Deputy Clark Lovelady, the program facilitator.
“This is their garden,” he said. “They’re proud of it.”
The growth of the plants also becomes a metaphor for the growth of the participant.
“If you’re not willing to help each other, you can’t help yourself,” said Walker.
Said Koester of the program, “It was the biggest blessing.”